For a long time it was thought that violence is a result of low self esteem.
However, the research of Baumeister, Bushman, and Campbell offers another account. People who are violent typically have a high self esteem (that is not to say that having a high self esteem means you are violent). So, who of those with high self esteem gets violent?
Remember the tale of Narcissus? Narcissus, a Greek character, was a beautiful hunter who fell in love with his reflection in the stream. Fixated upon his image and unable to leave it, Narcissus died.
Let’s relate this back to violence. Currently, studies are showing that violence results from someone undermining a narcissist’s view of him/herself. The idea is that narcissists think so highly of themselves that the violence is way to restore that view in the face of an ego threat.
Now let’s relate this to relationships. For example, I challenge my partner’s view of himself as masculine and strong, so he punches me to prove that I am wrong, thus restoring his self image. We know that violence in relationships is extremely common. Physical violence in relationships more commonly affects women — indeed it is the leading cause of injury to women ages 15-44 in the United States. Conversely, when it comes to male populations, various forms of psychological abuse appear more prevalent. But take note, both types of abuse affect both populations.
This research suggests that the personality profile of abusers may include a high degree of narcissism. What then, does domestic violence have in common with gang violence or war?
An interdisciplinary literature review (Baumeister, Smart, and Boden, 1996) found that favorable self-regard is linked to violence in one sphere after another. Murderers, rapists, wife beaters, violent youth gangs, aggressive nations, and other categories of violent people are all marked by strongly held views of their own superiority. When large groups of people differ in self-esteem, the group with the higher self esteem is generally the more violent one.
-American Psychological Society: Does Violence Result From Low Self-Esteem or From Threatened Egotism?
-Evil: Inside human violence and cruelty, Baumeister
-Stability and level of self-esteem as predictors of anger arousal and hostility, Grannemann
-Hate Crimes, Levin & McDevitt
-The roots of evil, Staub